Enterprises worldwide are recognizing the importance of sustainability as climate change becomes more important to boardrooms—and new regulations loom. However, the focus on digital transformation is causing data centers to consume even more energy than ever before. Implementing an all-flash data center can significantly reduce the energy footprint, enabling environmentally responsible organizations to prioritize sustainability while advancing their digital initiatives.
Choosing the right storage solution for data centers is a critical part of achieving sustainability goals. In this blog, I’ll compare the use of NAND flash–based solid-state storage against traditional magnetic media spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) for their relative environmental impact in data centers.
The most significant sustainability benefit of flash-based storage over HDDs is its energy efficiency. Flash storage can support more data per watt of power consumed than HDDs. In a data center, this efficiency can result in significant energy savings and lower carbon emissions. In a data center, this efficiency can result in significant energy savings and lower carbon emissions, as shown in this graph (source: Pflueger).
Flash storage generates less heat than HDDs because there are no moving parts, so it produces less friction. With fewer heat-generating components in a data center, less energy is required to maintain optimal operating temperatures overall. This can lead to significant savings in cooling costs and can help reduce a data center's carbon footprint.
Side note: When you compare quad-level cell (QLC) flash to triple-level cell (TLC) flash, you see that the heat generated by QLC and TLC is similar, so the cooling requirements are comparable. However, QLC drives have a higher storage density, which means that data centers can store more data in the same physical space. This can help reduce the overall energy used for cooling in the data center. Check out the new NetApp® AFF C-Series arrays, our fresh lineup of capacity flash systems for sustainable, scalable, and secure operations with a price tag you'll love.
The HDD manufacturing process involves the use of raw materials such as aluminum, glass, and rare-earth elements such as neodymium (Nd) and dysprosium (Dy) to make the magnetic media inside the drive. Rare-earths are mined by digging vast open pits in the ground, which can contaminate the environment and disrupt ecosystems. When poorly regulated, mining can produce wastewater ponds filled with acids, heavy metals, and radioactive material that might leak into groundwater.
It's true that some aspects of flash chip manufacturing are still considered less sustainable than hard drive manufacturing because they involve more energy-intensive and resource-intensive processes, such as lithography and chemical etching, to create the complex circuitry of the flash memory chips. And flash memory chips still require the use of some rare-earth metals. But this requirement is changing, and as the capacity of NAND flash increases and operating lifespan improves, the carbon footprint associated with flash chip manufacturing is decreasing and is expected to continue improving over time.
Plus, unlike HDDs, flash storage devices are more easily recyclable, because their NAND chips can be remanufactured using previously used components without significant security or privacy risks.
It’s important to note that both manufacturing processes have their own sustainability challenges, and efforts are being made to improve sustainability across the entire electronics industry.
Flash offers superior performance, even over nearline HDDs and hybrid SSD/HDD, which means it can handle more data in less time. Without powering spinning disks, flash delivers read speeds that are 10 times faster than HDDs. By reducing the time to access and process data, flash enables more efficient use of computing resources, which can help reduce overall energy consumption. For example, compared to a 7.2K RPM SATA disk, an SSD consumes one-ninth of the power per byte stored.
It’s a lot easier to commit to investing in your sustainability goals if you can rely on lower overall TCO as a result of your efforts. So, although the initial cost of flash might still be slightly higher than that of HDDs in some cases, the TCO over the lifespan of flash-based storage is lower due to its reduced energy consumption, physical footprint, and lower maintenance costs. Using flash in data centers can result in real cost savings in the long term while helping you get closer to achieving your data center sustainability goals.
With all this in mind, I think we can make a pretty compelling case that choosing flash-based storage over HDDs helps data centers bring down their energy consumption, lower their carbon footprint, and—in a small but measurable way—contribute to a more sustainable future for all of us.
Now take advantage of the new capacity flash C-Series from NetApp to reduce your storage footprint, reduce power consumption, and improve the sustainability of your operations.
Charles Hayes is a Product Marketing Manager focusing on hybrid cloud solutions. He’s a 20-year veteran of the storage industry, joining NetApp in September 2019. Before NetApp he spent years defining, developing, and marketing products and solutions for SimpleTech, Iomega, EMC and Lenovo. Charles is also a mediocre percussionist/guitarist, an old-school punk rock fan, and frequently claims he saw all the cool bands before they were cool.